Sunday, 25 March 2018

Where my words are

This has been a quiet little space these past few months, hasn’t it? 

And it hasn’t been intentional. Every month I take time to think about and plan my goals, and for January, February, and March the goal has been to blog at least twice a month, if not weekly. 

And there have been things to blog about! Since the start of the year, and I last blogged, I have:
  • been at a staff training conference with my organisation,
  • had a visit from my sister, and other dear friends, 
  • gone on holiday to Narnia (that may need more explanation)
  • had a personal retreat
  • had an executive team planning retreat and my S-Team planning retreat
  • been on our international team womens one night retreat
  • gone on my churchs 20+ weekend retreat

These have all been incredibly good things, and each deserves it’s own blog post. But perhaps they also explain why it has been quiet here - it’s not due to the absence of things to write about, but perhaps due to their abundance. And once I get out of the habit it’s hard to feel like I can come back here without pressuring myself to catch up on all the other pieces.

One of the other factors in my quietness is that since I last blogged I also started what may turn out to be a masters degree in transformational leadership. I had my first teaching week in January, a module on biblical interpretation by Craig Blomberg. It was an incredible week, to get to learn from someone who knows and loves Scripture that much (if you search for his name on Amazon you may start to get a sense of the breadth of his knowledge).

But that also means that there is now another place for my words to go - right now, I’m mostly reading in preparation to write two essays due in July. One essay is 1500 words examining two factors that influence how I interpret Scripture. And then I’m writing 6000 words of interpretation and application of Ephesians 3:1-13 and stumbling across beautiful quotes such as this one:

"The building up of God’s kingdom, taking God’s light to darkness and standing fast, is organically connected to one’s status as a child of God. The missional aspect of salvation is not optional.” Cohick, in Ephesians

This masters simultaneously feels like it has the most perfect timing ever and the worst timing ever. I am so aware of all I need to learn and that I, God willing, have another forty plus years of serving the Lord ahead of me, whatever that may look like. This feels like an updraft helping me become more equipped for the good works God has prepared for me. But it has been challenging to learn how to effectively juggle this and my role.

So that explains where some of my words have been, are, and will be going. 

I love this little space and the people who frequent it. I’m thankful for the record of God’s faithfulness that it is. So I want to continue to faithfully record His faithfulness. I’m hoping to sit down and write for 15 minutes a week here, publishing what I get written in that time and hopefully catching this space up on what God has been doing. 

Saturday, 30 December 2017

What I'm expecting in 2018

I have a confession to make: I rather enjoy watching cheesy movies. The answer to “favourite movie” will remain The Shawshank Redemption, and Wonder Woman and Dunkirk were both fantastic films this year. However, there’s just something comfortable and cozy about the predictability of Independence Day or White House Down and the triumph of good over evil. Or, if I’m feeling more in a chick-flick mood, the happy endings of Leap Year or Return to Me. 

I also really like reading crime books and being sucked into thrillers and wanting to know who did it, or how is this mess going to be resolved. And the confession that goes along with that is that I have definitely read plot synopses when I need to sleep at 1am but also need to know how it all ends. 

2018 begins in a couple of days and I’ve found myself looking at the year ahead through fingers covering my eyes because, in so many ways, I have no idea where this story is going to go and what plot twists lie ahead. I am excited to see what is going to happen, what God is going to do, but I also find myself being a little nervous. Some of that is the sense that January is going to be just a little bit crazy with the normal re-entry after home assignment, a new project that God has clearly led me to, and a training conference I’m attending. I like predictability and 2018 is already shaping up to be anything but. 

As I think back to the year that was, I cannot help but laugh at all that God did. Things that weren’t thoughts in my head 1st January 2017 became incredible realities during the year, God-given dreams that felt years away from fruition came to life. It wasn’t at all predictable, except that His faithfulness was awesome in the truest sense of that word, even in the bumps and the hard times.

So as I look at 2018 I know that I have no business predicting what the year is going to look like. As I dream and pray and think about my goals for the year ahead I’m asking God to give me His dreams and plans, because I know His plans are bigger than me simply surviving crazy months and being a little older and wiser twelve months from now. And I know that predictability holds no real comfort, that God has always been the deepest source of comfort.

Now, even as I feel a little nervous entering this year, it is with an almost giddiness. With an excitement and expectancy about what God is going to do. And here is what I’m expecting: I’m expecting Him to show up and be faithful. I’m expecting Him to be big and tender. I’m expecting Him to do the impossible and more than I could ever ask or imagine. I’m expecting to need to hear Him say “Fear not, I am with you” over and over. I’m expecting Him to show His strength in hard times. There’s a whole lot I cannot predict, but He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and I’m excited about what He has planned for 2018!

What are you expecting and anticipating as you look to this next year?  

Friday, 24 November 2017

The best decision I made in 2016

When I was in Israel last year I learnt a lot and even eighteen months later, I find myself thinking about that trip. I've lifted my orange Israel notebook off my bookshelf multiple times to refresh my memory of key points. And I continue to unpack and process some of the things I heard there as I seek to live differently because of what God showed me. 

But it was also in Israel that I made one of the best decisions of 2016. I'm not entirely sure what day it happened or where I was but it was in that country that I decided to join a gym when I returned to Czech. 

Now, there are many good reasons to join a gym. Working out a few times a week is a great thing for your body, the endorphins feel amazing, it helps your body deal with stress. I've had chronic back pain for over ten years now and working out regularly definitely helps me manage the pain and even reduce it. 

In my little hometown it's also a good idea to join a gym because the air gets so bad in winter with the low temperatures and pollution. A few times every winter a smog situation is declared and the young, elderly, and sick are advised to simply stay inside. There are times I'll walk from my car to my flat and my scarf will smell like I've become a smoker because of the pollution in the air. So it is actually not a good idea to exercise outside in the winter; I'm rather convinced it would negatively impact your health.

All the reasons so far are good motivation to join the gym. But none of them were my main reason. I wanted to join a gym to get to know more people in my community because it's easy to spend my days at the office and my weekends fill up with church and youth group. I wanted to get to know and build relationships with more non-Christians.

I picked the gym in town that's for women only and checked it out for the free week. I've been going ever since - over eighteen months. And while I'm sure there are gyms with better philosophy behind them I am so grateful for this place and the women there!

One of the things that attracted me to this gym is that you can pause your membership for a tiny fee. This works perfectly with my travel schedule and I'm still on my first twelve months of actual membership because of all the breaks when I head to other countries. And when I return after a week or a month I'm warmly welcomed and asked where I've been and what I've been up to.

Each October we have a group hike day, so I just attended my second one. It is such a fun day - we hike to the top of the mountain I can see from my living room window, and have some soup at the top, before hiking down for our main lunch at a restaurant at the bottom. Along the way women stop to pick berries or mushrooms, and we all wait for those who are a little behind as we labour up the hill.

And there are many conversations that happen along the way. This year it was wonderful to get to chat to women who I've seen multiple times but never had the chance to talk to. None of the women speak English, and they are abundantly patient with my Czech ability. We chat about the weather, our families, the gym, and all those wonderful things that make up our daily lives.

It's never long before someone asks "Wait, you're a Northern Irish girl who lives in Český Těšín? Why would you live here?" and I get to explain why I live here, what I do, and how much I love calling this little border town home. 

I'm so very thankful that God led me to this decision last year, and that I can now be part of this community. I'm praying for continued opportunities to build relationships with these women and that I'll be faithful in always being ready to give a reason for the hope that I have.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Fall Conference 2017: Transform

In the last week of September 380 youth leaders from over fifteen nations gathered in a little town in the Czech Republic for Fall Conference. The theme this year was Transform, learning to teach like Jesus. 

We believe that we have the greatest story ever told - so it's worth the work to learn how to teach it well, to teach it so that it truly transforms lives. And it should always start by transforming us as we learn and prepare. The truth is, at best we are the teaching assistants and it's every disciple maker's, every teacher's, role to step into the shadow of Jesus as He teaches.

One of the beautiful things about the conference was the fact we sang in all the languages represented there during the week. You can see three languages on the powerpoint screen above. I can sing in Czech, Slovak, and Polish but even the ones I couldn't sing in were beautiful, and a little foretaste of heaven where people from every tongue and nation will worship God. 

Another favourite thing about the conference was the teaching - from the main sessions each evening, to the three different tracks that everyone was placed in based on how they normally teach, to the workshops. I loved being in the workshop all about asking questions as a teaching method, taught by DU from Romania.

There is a team that works to plan conference throughout the year and their leadership, diligence and care was on display in so many of the details. I am so thankful that I got to sit under such excellent teaching for the week! And I am crazy thankful to serve in an organisation so passionate about equipping us well. 

And then there are the people who come to this conference! With 380 of us it's impossible to talk to everyone, but there are many beautiful conversations that happen over meals, or coffee, or late at night during the week. 

This photo shows three of my favourite people of the week - I got to meet these three ladies during four years of doing camps with Dejvice church in Prague. Now they are all loving Jesus and living for Him - as a student, a teacher, and a full time missionary. They radiate Him and it is the greatest privilege to know them, be friends, and get to spend time together! 

Once again, I left this place, this conference centre, this hill, changed - closer to Jesus and more equipped to serve Him. 

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Fall Camp Meeting

On a Saturday in September thirty of my favourite people gathered and we're pictured above. These are the people who lead our camp ministry in each of their countries and it was such a joy to be together for a couple of days! 

As I was praying and thinking about this meeting over the summer I felt God gave me three words for our time together - celebration, collaboration, and clarity. So that's how we spent our time - celebrating all that God did through camps this summer, collaborating for the year ahead, and bringing some clarity to some areas. 

And there was much to celebrate - there is a lot of fruit that comes from our summer ministries, and some of that fruit is over five hundred young people who professed faith in Jesus! We went out for dinner together on Sunday night, after playing a game of ping pong assassin in the local shopping centre (we are youth ministry people, afterall!).

But when we weren't sneaking around a shopping centre, trying to successfully hit the person whose name we had on our ping pong, we were sitting around these tables. We spent a lot of time talking about the local churches we get to partner with as we do over one hundred and twenty camps - how can we best train them, and equip them to do camp well. We also talked about what worked last year and what we can do better next year, with camps and interns and short term teams. 

These are the people I work closest with and it was wonderful to spend a few blessed days together. I'm so grateful for this team and all that we were able to talk and dream about. I love that I get to serve alongside these people as we seek to partner with and equip local churches across central and eastern Europe to fulfil Christ's commission. 

It's exciting to think about the fruit that God will bring from the discussions and plans we started in this place!

Friday, 20 October 2017

Today and Tomorrow in Czech

Today and tomorrow people across Czech are voting for who will represent them in the lower house of the Czech parliament. This means today people are picking the two hundred people who will be in government for the next four years.

It's been interesting to see the advertisements, posters, and flyers, that have appeared everywhere - along roads and in my letterbox. The last time there were elections I didn't understand any of the words but now I understand more. Although I still have a lot to learn about the government here and the thirty-one parties that run in the elections, and the ten main parties.

We know that it is ultimately God who is sovereign over all - from the President and Prime Minister, to the people who serve in the government offices in my little border town (where the voting lists, above, are printed in both Czech and Polish). And I'm thankful to live in a country where people can choose who is in power, especially as that has not always been true here. 

Would you please join me in praying for these elections and their results? That God would powerfully use whoever ends up in power, not for their glory but for His? Czech normally scores higher in corruption scales compared with other European countries, so please pray that all those in government would be people of integrity who will serve the country well. 

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. " 1 Timothy 2 v 1-4

If you're interested the New York Times have an article about the Czech elections that you can read here.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

An autumn day in Czech

It’s autumn here - the leaves are falling, “buy new winter tyres” is on my to-do list, and my desire to have heating is growing bigger than my lack of desire to learn how to use my new thermostat. This is my fifth autumn here and that feels strange because time seems to go by so quickly and so slowly at the same time. I’m currently also gearing up for my second home assignment, and being in Northern Ireland for November and December. 

On Thursday someone asked me where I call home - as I plan on heading back to NI am I saying I’m going home? The truth is that yes - Northern Ireland is where I grew up, and where my family live. I have twenty-four years of memories living there and, although my accent doesn’t always betray it, it’s home.

But the other truth is here is also home. I fly home whether I’m on an Easyjet flight heading east or west. Czech is home in both deeper and shallower ways than Northern Ireland is home. Northern Ireland is home because that’s where I was born and grew up. Northern Ireland has shaped me in deep ways, ways I can’t even communicate and sometimes don’t even know. Czech is home because I chose and choose to obey God and His deep and beautiful call on my life that has me here. Czech is my home not because I understand everything that happens but even though I decidedly don’t understand everything.

Yesterday I ran some errands around town. I bumped into someone from church. And the lady who works at the car insurance place greeted me when she saw me through the window. I was able to accomplish all my errands - and even some not on today’s list - all in a second language, and even solving problems met along the way.

I bought a beautiful bunch of flowers and I carried them home upside down. I didn’t even have to think about it - here flowers are carried by gripping the stem and carrying them upside down. I’d never done it that way before I moved here but now it makes sense.

None of this is remarkable or weird or scary any more. Sure, the post office still drives me a little crazy but that’s only because there is no observable, obvious, queuing system. But going to the post office no longer an errand that freaks me out or I need to psych myself up for. 

So, I’m excited for this month of soaking up autumn in Czech, at home with lots of my normal rhythms and routines. And I’m excited to head home at the end of the month to catch up with dear people and share the stories of what God is doing in this place.